Monday, September 30, 2013

Mercantilism and rebellion among the stars

Downbelow Station
by C. J. Cherryh

Downbelow Station brings the politics of European colonialism into an interplanetary setting. The Earth Company (a private colonial firm similar to the East India Company) dominates the inhabitants of humanity’s space colonies as Earth remains the only source of food and supplies. But then Pell’s World, the first new Earth-like planet, is discovered and suddenly the colonies no longer need Earth, though Earth still needs the colonies. The colonies declare themselves an independent Union, and the Company begins to mass its space fleet to capture Pell’s World and re-establish dominance. 

As part of the larger context of colonial issues, Cherryh also brings the plight of indigenous natives into the story. Pell’s World was presumed to be uninhabited when the colonists began to exploit it, but the political situation becomes even more problematic when it is discovered that a simple culture exists among the primate-like inhabitants known as the Hisa.

The narrative of Downbelow Station is focused on the inhabitants of the space station that orbits Pell’s World, which they refer to as Downbelow. Stationmaster Angelo Konstatin is forced to deal with one crisis after another, including crowds of refugees, merchant shippers forming their own alliance, and belligerent Company officers. The other main character is Captain Signy Mallory, the commander of the Company ship Norway. Mallory is as arrogant as any of the captains, but Company tactics force her to reconsider her loyalties.

Downbelow Station is the definitive space-station novel. It is a classic space opera and a past winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel. It is the first book in a series called the Company Wars. Fans of military Science Fiction authors like David Weber and Elizabeth Moon as well as fans of more sociological Science Fiction like that of Kim Stanley Robinson and Ursula Le Guin should enjoy this book.

To request this book click the title or cover above.

Review by Keith Davis

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Into the Woods

Nature Wars
By Jim Sterba

Since moving to Gwinnett County I've come home to find deer in my driveway, have seen a fox cross my path during a morning walk, helped a turtle avoid a busy road, and have seen more roadkill than I can count. According to Jim Sterba, this isn't particularly unusual because we live in a time of major population regrowth in both animals and trees.

In this book he argues that the eastern third of the continental United States is so thoroughly tree-covered that for all practical purposes it's a huge forest. And the animals seem to agree. Due to the move away from cities and into tree-lined suburbs, "it is very likely that more people live in closer proximity to more wild animals and birds in the eastern United States today than anywhere on the planet at any time in history."

This may sound great to nature-lovers, and in many ways it is, but more animals can sometimes mean more problems when they clash with their human neighbors. Sterba tells the story of beavers creating inconvenient wetlands, geese contaminating drinking water, deer being struck by cars, and once-domesticated cats that have become feral. The big question is what should we do? And this, it turns out, is a political hot potato.

This is the book to read if you want to know more about the animals that may be living in your back yard.

To request this book click the title or cover above.

Review by Danny Hanbery

Monday, September 23, 2013

Magical Beings in New York City

The Golem and the Jinni
By Helene Wecker

In a beautiful combination of fantasy and historical fiction, two supernatural beings arrive in New York City in 1899. The reader follows the Golem’s story from the beginning as she makes her way to New York. Being a creature made of clay and bound to a master, the Golem is at loose ends when her master dies enroute. She wanders the streets until she is rescued from a mob by an older, kindly rabbi who recognizes her nature immediately. Meanwhile, in another neighborhood, the Jinni is accidentally released from captivity by an astonished metalsmith. Thought to be just a figment of Arabic folklore, the metalsmith and the Jinni work to conceal his true nature as a creature made of fire.

The Golem and the Jinni go about their separate lives trying to adjust to this new world until they meet by chance and recognize each other as different. Since they can’t reveal themselves to the people around them, this budding friendship gives each of them the chance to really be themselves. They each have different views on the world and their places in it, which leads to some tension between the characters. Both are curious about the world, though, and are eager to learn about each other. We also see the inner workings of the neighborhoods these two creatures live in, and how the characters introduced ultimately influence the final outcome of the story. There is a dark force stalking the Jinni. Will the Golem be able to save him and the residents of the neighborhood or will they all be destroyed?

Author Helene Wecker has a writing style similar to Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus) and delicately weaves together the story of these two disparate creatures.

To request this book click the title or cover above.

Review by Erin from Collins Hill

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Love and Marriage

Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage is a great history of FDR and Eleanor. It reads as a biography of both of them, and it is interesting to see how they met, fell in love and worked together through personal and professional crises. Fifth generation cousins, once removed, Eleanor did not need to change her last name after marrying Franklin.

FDR and Eleanor did not have the smoothest of marriages. It started off rocky, with FDR having to wait to make the engagement public since he needed to convince his mother that Eleanor was the one. FDR, whose mother was a dominant figure in his life, was always surrounded by women who adored him. He was dependent on his mother for most of his life for money, which caused strained in law relations.  The author explores his dalliances, many to which Eleanor turned a blind eye, as FDR turned a blind eye to hers. It is interesting that two people who brought out the best in each other could not maintain fidelity. Emotional affairs ran rampant, even if physical ones did not. FDR was in great demand, and Eleanor broke new ground on what a First Lady could do. The couple were independent thinkers with their own agenda, but worked very much as a  team.

This work is well researched and contains excerpts of their personal correspondence to many relatives and companions. The couple was strong and resilient, but at times brought out the worst in each other. It was an unconventional marriage, but one could argue that if it worked for them, who are we to judge?

Please click on the title or picture above to request this title.

Review by Cara 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Double the Pleasure, Double the Fun


Violet and Daisy are twins with psychic abilities. Daisy, a stay at home mom, has disconnected herself from her "senses" due to her desire to not feel different from anyone else. In strict contrast, Violet makes her living by reading fortunes. Granted, there hasn't been much of a living for Violet and Daisy usually helps her sister out whenever she can.

When Violet has a premonition that St. Louis will experience a major earthquake, Violet and Daisy are thrust in to the national spotlight. Violet makes appearances on The Today Show and garners praise and criticism about her talents. Once the media finds out Violet and Daisy are twins, they are eager to spotlight their childhood. Daisy, who in college changed her name to Kate, isn't thrilled with the media attention since she has tried to disassociate herself from her that part of her life. She must now confront the return of her own premonitions, and deal with the fall-out from her husband and friends, who are professors at Washington University in the earth science department, who vehemently deny there will be an earthquake.

While Violet and Kate are close, Violet scorns Kate's decisions to be a stay at home mom, while Kate can't understand Violet's lifestyle. The weeks leading up to the prediction change Violet and Kate in ways they can't image. Will Violet's premonition bring the sisters closer together? Will it come true?

To request this title, click on the title or picture above.

Review by Cara

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Evolve or die, says author

The Approaching Great Transformation
Toward a Livable Post Carbon Economy
by Joel Magnuson

Here's a palliative for the crushing existential gloom you've felt since reading Kunstler's Long Emergency and Too Much Magic, grim visions of the near future when cheap fossil fuels and neverending economic growth have gone the way of the dinosaur.

I say "palliative" because Magnuson's provocative book is no feel-good cure for the post-carbon blues, though his vision is vastly more upbeat than Kunstler's. The "great transformation" of the title is the inevitable resetting of industrial societies and economies worldwide as fossil fuel supplies dwindle, taking with them cheap food, abundant clean water, fast and easy transportation, and pretty much all the everyday conveniences of modern living. Magnuson's optimism is evident in his choice of the adjective "great" to describe this event, which in his view will be enormous in its impact but also could be turned to enormously beneficial ends.

Magnuson takes heart in the knowledge that the human race possesses a measure of reason and foresight, perhaps even enough to resolve "glaringly obvious contradictions like endless growth driven by corporate institutions and the reality of a finite planet with limited resources." If we fail to prepare for an inevitable loss of 80% or more of our energy supply in our lifetime, we will have only ourselves to blame.

But despair not, exhorts Magnuson: "Hopelessness and despair are human emotions that stem from a kind of blindness to the opportunities for real and positive change that are now presenting themselves. Rather than surrendering to powerlessness, we should become engaged in our own communities and welcome new approaches to meeting our needs."

Among the exemplars of novel, humane engagement touted by Magnuson is New Belgium Brewing. Employee-owned, wind-/solar-/biomass-powered, and suffused with a carnivalesque spirit of creativity and community, New Belgium embodies the values of craftsmanship and sustainability conceived by 19th-century English artist and writer John Ruskin and advocated by Magnuson. If New Belgium really is a viable model for post-carbon industry, maybe the future isn't so bleak after all.

Here's hoping.

To request these books click the titles or cover above.

Review by Don Beistle

Monday, September 9, 2013

The dark side of the flying dream

The Life and Wars of General Curtis LeMay
by Warren Kozak

Last month I wrote about young men who joined the military out of a desire to fly and then developed misgivings as the gravity of what they were or could be required to do came to weigh on them. Curtis LeMay was not that kind of pilot nor that kind of man.

To many he was a monster, or at best a madman. LeMay was the architect of the American firebombing campaign that killed a half-million Japanese civilians in the Second World War, the master of America's airborne atomic arsenal in the 1950s, the model for General Jack D. Ripper in Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, and George Wallace's third-party running mate in 1968.

LeMay is one of those fascinating historical figures about whom not enough has been written. Warren Kozak wrote this book specifcally to remedy that oversight and to help correct LeMay's bizarre and cartoonish public image. No chickenhawk, Kozak's interest in LeMay stems from a remark made by one of his college professors: "You might not agree with his politics, but if you have a son serving in combat, you want him serving under someone like LeMay."

That practical assessment informs Kozak's generally positive portrait of LeMay as a decent man called upon to do truly terrible things in pursuit of the greater good. LeMay's bravery and leadership were legendary (he frequently flew the lead plane on dangerous missions), and his ability to hit the enemy harder than any other commander while bringing more American flyers safely back to base were very nearly miraculous. But don't take my word for it, read Kozak's strangely compelling biography for yourself.

To request this book click the title or cover above.

Review by Don Beistle

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Woman of Adventure

The Map of Lost Memories
By Kim Fay

Indiana Jones is an archaeologist, and so is Irene Blum. But while Indy spends his time slashing through jungles and hunting lost treasures, Irene is an expert from afar. She grew up in museums, becoming so knowledgeable in ancient Cambodian civilization that she knows she'll have the job of Museum Director one day. Unfortunately, when the director steps down Irene is not offered the position. It goes to a man instead. She may be the best person, but this is America in 1925 and the museum is set in its ways.

Furious, Irene sets off on a quest to find a long-lost treasure and prove her worth to the world of archaeology. Her first task is to run down the people who will help her. This takes her to Shanghai where she meets the drug-addicted and unpredictable Simone Merlin. While Irene is not sure how far she can trust Simone, a narrow escape from danger seals them together and they set off towards the lush jungles of the southeastern Asian interior. While Irene has never been to Cambodia before, it is a homecoming for Simone. Along the way they meet a nightclub owner and a diplomat who both join the expedition. Everyone seems to have their own agenda, which they are in no hurry to share with the others. Will Irene find her lost treasure and the vindication she seeks, or will it be stolen from right under her nose?

To request this book click the cover or title above.

Review by Danny Hanbery

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Norcross Branch Staff Picks

September's staff picks come from the good folks at the Norcross Branch, who offer a really intriguing handful of titles for your reading pleasure.
The Age of Miracles
by Karen Thompson Walker

Suppose you woke up one Saturday morning and found that the rotation of the earth had suddenly started to slow down? As time passes the days grow to 20, 30 then 40 hours long, and life changes radically for residents of one California suburb. The environment serves as a major testing ground for maintaining relationships and establishing stability. People struggle to figure it out whether live by clock time or to adjust their lives to movement or lack of movement of the earth. This story is told through the eyes of Julia, a 6th-grade girl who valiantly navigates changes within her family, her friendships and her own coming-of-age. Highly recommended for modern day fantasy lovers.

Between Two Fires
by Christopher Buehlman

The setting is medieval France in 1348. Thomas, a disgraced, faithless but warmhearted knight finds an angelic orphan girl who seems to be much more than Thomas can comprehend. She convinces Thomas to lead her over the depraved landscape to Avignon, where she will fulfill her mission to confront the evil that has overcome mankind. You see, the final war is coming and strange, unholy things walk the face of the Earth. This book is epic in scope, emotionally draining for the characters (and readers alike) and is definitely exhilarating. Recommended for readers who like to take the scariest ride at the amusement park.

Leviathan Wakes
by James S. A. Corey

Corey, the pen name for Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham, delivers a rollicking good space opera about the people of the solar system (Earth, Mars and the Asteroid Belt) coming face to face with the gruesome infectious evidence of a far flung alien civilization. Highly recommended for fans of more human-centered Science Fiction.

Maisie Dobbs series
by Jacqueline Winspear

Mystery is my favorite genre, and a little history in the plot makes it even better. I especially like to read book series in order. When I reach the last book available in a series, I am at a loss until I find a character in a new series to follow. I found my new historical mystery series in Maisie Dobbs. The series is set in World War I-era  England and begins with Maisie Dobbs as a young girl earning her living as servant. She serves as a nurse during the Great War, witnessing firsthand the terrible loss and suffering from trench warfare and nerve gasses. After the war she becomes a strong, independent woman who runs her own private investigation agency. As the series develops, Maisie solves mysteries that come from the troubles of the war, which highlights the compelling human cost of war as well as the social issues of the era.

The Scent of Darkness
by Margot Berwin

Eva, also known as Evangeline takes a journey of self discovery from Cyril, New York to the fragrant and otherworldly bayous of Louisiana and back. After inheriting her grandmother's home, Eva discovers a vial of perfume in a hidden room where her Grandmother, an "aromata," created scents. Gabriel, a young medical student who has been using the home as a quiet study, is present when she empties the vial upon herself and is transformed from invisible and lackluster into a force whose presence is felt as soon as she steps foot in New Orleans. Evangeline’s presence transforms strangers, animals, Gabriel (who represents good) and Michael Bon Chance (who represents evil and wants to possess her power). Evangeline is drawn to both men but even more so to the mystery of the scent, which does not wash off or wear off and has changed life as she knew it. Highly recommended for those who enjoy Magical Realism.

To request these items click the titles or covers above.